How to decline a wedding invitation.
A co-worker (and lovely acquaintance) of mine has invited me to her summer wedding — which will require a plane ticket and a solo hotel room for a weekend (and a vacation day, since it’s on a Sunday). Though I’m very fond of her and will likely not have other plans that weekend, I am still hesitant to commit to the wedding, and to drop the requisite dough to witness her special day. Is that totally stingy of me? Is there a good way to graciously decline, while expressing my gratitude for the invitation?
It is not stingy of you—it’s your money, and quite a lot of it, at that! It’s an honor to be asked, yes, but it’s also expensive to go jetting around the country, and it’s completely your call. I hereby give you permission not to go.
Here’s how to do it with love and kindness, or the I-like-you-as-a-colleague-equivalent: first, do not simply fill out the response card (if there is one). This is why response cards are tricky, in general: they facilitate brusqueness. Ticking off “will not attend” and slipping the SASE back in the mail suggests a cursory thoughtlessness—and, quite rightly, it sounds like you wish to communicate something a bit warmer. If there is a response card, fill it out and attach a nice note. What should it say, you ask? Well. The proper language for declining a wedding invitation is a bit stilted: you write, in the third person, that Gertrude (that’s you, in case you weren’t sure) “regrets that she is unable to accept the kind invitation of” whoever is doing the hosting, according to the wording on the wedding invitation (either the couple or the bride’s parents, usually, but sometimes a whole slew of suckers). In this tradition, no explanation need be given. I feel like I should share this, because some people still use it. I will demur, however, that although I acknowledge its “correctness,” in the breezy era in which we find ourselves living, this wording comes off as creepy and insincere. Manners ought to be more about kindness, and putting others at ease, than about doing things exactly by the book. Besides, which book? (Personally, I choose the latter when a book is required.)
My opinion is that it’s best to give a reason when there is a good, simple one (“my partner is too ill to travel”; “I have previously engaged to be conducting research on the native beetles of Albania,” etc.), but to avoid explanations when the truth is not specific enough not to be interpreted as “I just couldn’t be fucked.” I think you fall into the latter category. Besides, you really don’t want to go dragging money into a polite note. We all know that if she were your BFF, you’d probably scrape together the cash.
So politely and regretfully say no, all while expressing your delight at being invited (“I’m so sad that I won’t be able to make it” and “I so wish that I could be there, but sadly I won’t be able to” are useful phrases), but do not give a reason. Her wedding is far away: she will know the reason. Plus, you work together: I assume that you don’t make buckets of cash, otherwise you’d probably think an out-of-state wedding was a lark! If you don’t, neither does she, being your colleague (unless you guys are strippers and she is way better at it than you are?). She will understand. Rest assured, too, that you certainly won’t be the only one of her local friends to feel that the cost is prohibitive.
Then (this is the best part), immediately after you have emailed or mailed your regrets (really, you will only be emailing your regrets if the invitations solicit email responses or if she’s not a super formal person and the invitations don’t specify how to respond), send her a gift.
“What?” you say, incredulously. “I thought you said that A Wedding Invitation Was Not A Contract!” You are perfectly correct, and it is not at all required to send a gift if you are not attending the wedding. But think how much more agreeable it will make you feel to send a modest gift, especially since you are a little uncomfortable with your excuse (or lack thereof), and since you see this broad all the damn time! The gift need not be pricey (under $40 is way fine), but it should be thoughtful (i.e. not a utilitarian item or a gift card). I am a fan of the nice tray or the attractive bowl. Both are useful, but not something you buy yourself, and they can quite easily be simultaneously handsome and (relatively) inexpensive. This tasteful household item will convey exactly what you wish to communicate: you are fond of her, and you wish her and her beloved very well indeed in their nuptial future of playing house.
A word about timing: put your response in the mail promptly, but not the day after it arrives. You want her to think that you have given the matter serious thought and that your regrets are sincere (which, happily, it sounds like they kind of are!). Finally, you may feel awkward around the office, but your determination to make things not awkward can go a long way: don’t avoid her either before or after the wedding. Continue to giggle over lunch breaks, titter over post-work stiff drinks, and ask earnestly about wedding plans, if that’s something you’ve been doing. Express the desire, genuine or otherwise, to see pictures. Then follow through, once the wedding is over, and ooh and aah over the exquisitely-captured, ravishing vintage medicine bottle centerpieces.